If You're Struggling, There is Help
If You’re Struggling, There is Help
Although U.S. military personnel receive extensive pre-combat training, the experiences they face will have life-changing impacts. Unfortunately not all of these changes are positive and each soldier will be affected differently. Some impacts can be: insomnia, hyper-alertness, difficulty concentrating, impatience, grief, anxiety; just to name a few. Fortunately, if you are struggling from making the transition from soldier to student, there are many avenues you can pursue to help you succeed in making this change.
Suggestions for a Successful Transition
· Establish and maintain relationships with fellow students and college faculty/staff. Combat experiences often leave veterans feeling alienated from others, and they must make intentional, active efforts to connect with others on campus. Getting involved with clubs and organized activities can break down walls and connect the veteran with others having similar interests.
· Work to reestablish relationships and renegotiate roles with family members. Deployment causes a void within the family system that is typically filled by others adopting new roles and taking on new responsibilities. While both returning veterans and family members eagerly anticipate their reunion, changes in the family structure that have occurred during the deployment period often lead to unanticipated stresses and challenges. Veterans and family members must reexamine how responsibilities will now be divided and communicate openly about roles they want or do not want to play.
· Understand that emotional control requires both holding in and expressing emotions. Contrary to norms on the battlefield, articulating and showing emotions does not indicate weakness and is critical to sustaining meaningful personal relationships in civilian life.
· Reestablish or find a meaning and purpose in life apart from military service. The clear meaning and purpose that characterize a war zone is lost in civilian life. Make an effort to identify important values and passions and consider how they might guide daily choices and commitments. Seek spiritual fulfillment through prayer, meditation, religious practice, volunteer work, etc. Faith practices are often an important source of strength and resilience. There are numerous volunteer opportunities here in Genesee county. The following website may be a good tool: http://www.rescen.org/volunteer-opportunities/
· Develop good academic habits. Start with a manageable course load and set reasonable goals. Go to class and take comprehensive notes to improve focus on course materials and lectures. Establish a daily schedule to maximize organization.
· Take advantage of academic and personal services available to UM-Flint students. Among the departments that provide services related to the common needs of veteran students are:
Career & Academic Planning: http://www.umflint.edu/advising/
Counseling & Student Development Center: http://www.umflint.edu/studentdevelopment/counseling_services.htm
Health Center: http://www.umflint.edu/shps/uhwc/
· Pay attention to physical well-being. Eat well-balanced meals, get plenty of rest, and build physical activity into daily life.
· Seek balance in life. The experience of combat can make veterans jaded and pessimistic. Balance that viewpoint by focusing on people and events which are meaningful, comforting, and encouraging.
· Limit use of alcohol and illegal substances. Use of these substances increases the likelihood of depression, insomnia, relationship problems, academic difficulties, legal troubles and a host of other negative issues.
· Appreciate a sense of humor in yourself and others. Humor relieves stress, produces body chemicals that improve mood, and helps us to gain a more balanced perspective. Do not postpone joy and laughter should they come your way.
· Limit exposure to war-related news reports (e.g., news channels, newspapers, Web sites, etc.). While keeping informed of developments is important, the 24/7 media machine typically ignores stories of heroism, resilience, and sacrifice and instead focuses on the most horrific images and troubling accounts. If your looking for a positive spin on today's news, the following website may deliver what you require: http://www.positivenews.org.uk/cgi-bin/Positive_News/welcome.cgi
· Prepare an answer to questions about your war experience. Most veterans have some difficulty sharing what happened in combat and the toll that those experiences had on them. Prepare a brief response for acquaintances and a lengthier answer for close family members and friends.
· Connect with other veterans. Veterans often report that the friendship and support of other veterans is critical to effectively transitioning to civilian life. Other veterans have an intuitive understanding of the experience and impact of being in combat and of the additional challenges that veteran students face on college campuses.
· Grieve for and honor those who did not make it back. It is important for veterans to grieve the loss of friends and to experience and work through the emotions that are understandably attached to these losses. Work to live a life worthy of the ultimate sacrifice made by fallen comrades.
Signs That Counseling Might Be Helpful
While many returning soldiers will make a successful return to civilian life, research suggests that as many as 1 in 3 returning veterans experience a serious psychological problem related to their war zone experience. Combat and its associated horrors can traumatize and devastate soldiers physically, emotionally, spiritually, and morally. Further, there is reason to believe that the nature of the war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq may be fertile breeding grounds for the mental health problems most commonly experienced by soldiers. Among the factors that may elevate the risk of psychological problems for returning veterans are:
· Close-quarters, confusing battle environments with no front lines and no clear sense of who is friend or foe.
· Greater sense of unpredictability and helplessness.
· Soldiers remaining with their units throughout training and deployment. This familiarity develops close bonds and cohesiveness among the personnel in the unit, and the sudden loss of dear, devoted friends is more likely to occur and to negatively impact survivors.
· The tasks required for survival in the war zone taking precedence over acknowledging and grieving the loss of friends.
· Exposure to significant numbers of civilian casualties.
· The existence of psychological problems present before the experience of combat.
The psychobiological reactions to the extreme stress of the war zone environment frequently cause an array of symptoms and reactions in returning veterans. With the passage time and the opportunity to live in a civilian environment, these typically diminish. However, when symptoms and reactions last for more than a month or interfere with daily life and functioning, professional assessment and treatment may be required. Among the signs that a returning veteran is experiencing a significant problem that may require professional counseling assistance are:
· Recurring and intrusive memories and/or dreams of combat.
· Acting or feeling as if a past traumatic event was happening in the moment.
· Intense distress in response to cues that symbolize or resemble some aspect of combat.
· Avoidance of anything associated with war-zone experiences.
· Diminished interest to participate in important or previously enjoyed activities.
· Feeling emotionally distant, detached, and/or estranged from others.
· Difficulty having or expressing a full range of emotions.
· Sense of a foreshortened future (e.g., not expecting to live to have a career, marriage, children, or a normal life span).
· Difficulty falling or staying asleep.
· Suicidal thoughts, feelings, or behavior.
· Frequent experiences of irritability, anger, and/or rage.
· Difficulty concentrating.
· Hyper-vigilance and being easily startled by noises and movements.
· Abuse of alcohol and drugs.
· Persistent difficulties with authority.
· Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.
· Guilt or anger at oneself for being unable to prevent the death of others or committing a perceived error that resulted in harm or death.
· Feelings of paranoia without any real evidence that others have bad motives.
The experience of one or more of the above signs of distress can significantly interfere with academic performance, daily functioning, motivation, relationships, and general enjoyment of life. During the period of their service, soldiers are often reluctant to utilize mental health services for fear of appearing 'weak' and/or negatively impacting their military career (e.g., potential loss of promotions, security clearances, etc.), especially because their confidentiality is not assured. While returning veterans often feel the continued need to appear resilient and unaffected by their experiences, the earlier they seek professional counseling, the greater the likelihood that their issues will be resolved and that their academic and personal goals will be achieved.
Student Development Center (SDC) Services for Veterans
Returning veterans who are having difficulty managing intense reactions to their combat experiences and/or functioning in daily activities should contact the Student Development Center (SDC) at (810) 762-3456. The goal of the SDC is to offer the support and services that will ease the transition of returning veterans to college life at UM-Flint and, when necessary, to provide referrals to other UM-Flint and community resources. Clinicians can help veterans identify, prioritize, implement strategies to address their specific concerns and challenges. To learn more about the SDC and its services, please check out the SDC Web site: http://www.umflint.edu/studentdevelopment/counseling_services.htm
United States Department of Veterans Affairs: The homepage for the VA is http://www.va.gov/. The following sites are parts of the Veterans Affairs main site that may be of special interest to returning veterans.
· Iraq War Clinician Guide: This guide was developed to provide mental health professionals with information about the war-zone experience of soldiers and the stresses and challenges associated with combat. http://www.ncptsd.va.gov/ncmain/ncdocs/manuals/nc_manual_iwcguide.html
However, this site also contains many resources for readjustment to civilian life:
· Transition Assistance Information for Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom Veterans http://www.ncptsd.va.gov/ncmain/ncdocs/handouts/iraq_clinician_guide_app_j1.pdf
· Warzone-Related Stress Reactions: What Veterans Need to Know http://www.ncptsd.va.gov/ncmain/ncdocs/handouts/iraq_clinician_guide_app_j2.pdf
· Stress, Trauma, and Alcohol and Drug Use http://www.ncptsd.va.gov/ncmain/ncdocs/handouts/iraq_clinician_guide_app_j4.pdf
· What if I Have Sleep Problems? http://www.ncptsd.va.gov/ncmain/ncdocs/handouts/iraq_clinician_guide_app_j5.pdf
· Coping with Traumatic Stress Reactions http://www.ncptsd.va.gov/ncmain/ncdocs/handouts/iraq_clinician_guide_app_j6.pdf
· Warzone-Related Stress Reactions: What Families Need to Know http://www.ncptsd.va.gov/ncmain/ncdocs/handouts/iraq_clinician_guide_app_j7.pdf
· Families in the Military http://www.ncptsd.va.gov/ncmain/ncdocs/handouts/iraq_clinician_guide_app_j8.pdf
· Homecoming after Deployment: Dealing with Changes and Expectations http://www.ncptsd.va.gov/ncmain/ncdocs/handouts/iraq_clinician_guide_app_j9.pdf
· Homecoming after Deployment: Tips for Reunion http://www.ncptsd.va.gov/ncmain/ncdocs/handouts/iraq_clinician_guide_app_j10.pdf
· Seamless Transition Home: http://www.seamlesstransition.va.gov/
· Transition Assistance Information for Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom Veterans: http://www.seamlesstransition.va.gov/transition.asp
· National Center for PTSD (NCPTSD): Affiliated with the VA, the NCPTSD aims to advance the clinical care and social welfare of veterans through research, education and training on PTSD and stress-related disorders. However, this site also contains many resources for readjustment to civilian life. http://www.ncptsd.va.gov/ncmain/index.jsp
· Readjustment Counseling Services: This Veterans Administration site provides tools to locate nearby veterans centers and service providers. http://www.vetcenter.va.gov/
Battle-mind Training: Transitioning from Combat
Discusses how attitudes and skills developed in combat can be altered to achieve success and happiness in civilian life. http://usachppm.apgea.army.mil/hio_public/images/dhpw/brochures/Battlemind_Training_I.pdf
The Road to Resilience: This article from the American Psychological Association describes resilience and some factors that affect how people deal with hardship. Much of the brochure focuses on developing and using a personal strategy for enhancing resilience. http://apahelpcenter.org/featuredtopics/feature.php?id=6
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Resources:
· American Psychiatric Association: A discussion of PTSD symptoms, treatments, and resources. http://www.healthyminds.org/multimedia/ptsd.pdf
· National Institute of Mental Health: A discussion of PTSD symptoms, treatments, and resources. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml
Books of Interest:
· "Down Range: To Iraq and Back" by Bridget Cantrell, Ph.D. and Chuck Dean (www.heartstowardhome.com)
· "Courage After Fire" by Keith Armstrong, Suzanne Best, and Paula Domenici http://www.courageafterfire.com/